Foreign Affairs: British Government collaboration in EU Global Strategy

EU Defence Union has been the subject of parliamentary questions and speeches in both the House of Lords and the European Parliament. Yet, in the mainstream media and on the floor of the House of Commons, there is silence. Behind the scenes, however, British government ministers have attended meetings to discuss these matters in detail. One of many such meetings occurred in Brussels, on 19 November, 2018.

This article was prompted by a request to verify information contained in a Veterans for Britain article headlined “Ministers let the EU expand defence integration schemes they had just put into the exit deal” dated 28 April, 2019. VfB outlined four major commitments entered into by Sir Alan Duncan on behalf of the Theresa May Government, and concludes that these, taken together with commitments earlier that same month, mean that:

A future post-Brexit UK would be subject to the rules, policies and instructions of the EU’s defence architecture.

We would not be independent in defence and would not have left the EU in defence, the most important aspect of national sovereignty. 

In a 15 November written statement in Hansard, then Foreign Minister Sir Alan Duncan confirmed the nature of the meeting:

I will attend the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 19 November. It will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HRVP), Federica Mogherini, and will take place in Brussels.

On 29 November, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in a written statement by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), reported:

My Right Honourable Friend, the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Alan Duncan), has made the following written Ministerial statement:

My Noble Friend the Minister of State for Defence (The Rt Hon Earl Howe) and I attended the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 19 November. It was chaired by the High Representative and Vice President of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HRVP), Federica Mogherini. The meeting was held in Brussels.

Of note here is the attendance of Earl Howe. Thus, since 19 November 2018, if not before, the noble Lord will have been in full, detailed knowledge of the content of this meeting. As Deputy Leader of the House of Lords he has a key role, to quote the Government's own publication, in:

...questioning government ministers, improving legislation and debating topics of national significance.

It is also notable, but as we will see not unusual, that only Sir Alan Duncan is listed as attending on the documents issued by the EU. Earl Howe is not mentioned. The participants list for the 19 November sitting is available on line. Also omitted from the list is Ursula Von der Leyen, then German Minister of Defence and now President Elect of the European Commission. Nevertheless, she was there and can be seen in the published video and stills.

The agenda for the meeting confirms it was actually a two day event, held over the 19 and 20 November.

Day 1, attended by Duncan and Howe, included a session on Security and Defence and the adoption of the Draft Council conclusions on Security and Defence in the context of the EU Global Strategy; paper reference 13977/18. The next document in the number sequence, 13978/18, is the agreed “Council conclusions on Security and Defence in the context of the EU Global Strategy”. To briefly summarise, the following extracts give a picture of the scope of the discussions:

  • [Civilian] CSDP Compact by the Council and the Member States, marking an ambitious commitment to strengthen civilian CSDP and make it more capable, more effective and responsive, and more joined up in today’s changed security environment. It will contribute to the fulfilment of the EU Level of Ambition and its three strategic priorities in the area of security and defence, by performing the CSDP tasks set out in the Treaty on European Union
  • Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC) – [The Council] Welcomes the positive impact of the MPCC in its command and control of the EU’s three military training missions and underlines the relevance of the MPCC, set up in June 2017 as a permanent planning and conduct capability at the military strategic level in Brussels for these missions, in accordance with the principle of avoiding unnecessary duplication with NATO. It stresses the important contribution of the MPCC to the aim for the EU to react in a faster, more effective and more seamless manner as a security provider, as part of its integrated approach to external conflicts and crises.
  • [The council] Agrees, on the basis of the report by the High Representative, to integrate the current executive tasks of the EU Operations Centre (OPSCEN) into the MPCC, with the objective to be ready by the end of 2020 to take responsibility for the operational planning and conduct of the non-executive military CSDP missions and one executive military CSDP operation limited to EU Battlegroup size.
  • Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) – [The Council] Recognises that a third State could, and would need to, in line with the Council conclusions of 13 November 2017, provide substantial added value to the PESCO projects, contribute to strengthening PESCO and the CSDP and meet more demanding commitments, while fully respecting the principle of decision-making autonomy of the EU and its Member States.
  • Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) – [The Council] agrees to launch the CARD as a standing activity, starting with the first full CARD cycle in 2019/2020.
  • European Defence Fund – [The Council] Has agreed on a partial general approach on the proposal for a Regulation establishing the European Defence Fund, paving the way for an agreement with the European Parliament expected as early as possible in 2019, without prejudice to the overall agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).
  • EU-NATO cooperation – [The Council] Reiterates that it continues to ensure coherence and mutual reinforcement between the EU and NATO and that cooperation continues to take place in full respect of the principles of inclusiveness, reciprocity and decision-making autonomy of both organisations.
  • European Peace Facility (EPF) – [The Council] takes note, without prejudice to future decisions, of the intention of the proposed EPF to enhance the Union's ability to preserve peace, prevent conflicts and strengthen international security, and thus progress towards fulfilling its Level of Ambition.
  • Funding of military missions and operations – [The Council] Recalling its conclusions of 18 May 2017 on Security and Defence in the context of the EU Global Strategy, and pending the completion of this review, hereby agrees that the Council Declaration on the common funding of the deployment of EU Battlegroups be extended until 31 December 2020.

The above are extracts from nine of thirty-four conclusions, but suffice to illustrate the pillars of European Defence Union which were discussed. The diagram below shows where these components fit into the whole edifice. The "third state" mentioned of course refers principally to the United Kingdom. It is clear that it was European Defence Union under discussion, although that phrase is entirely omitted from the published documentation.

The pillars of EU Defence Union
The pillars of EU Defence Union.

On the second day of the conference, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg attended, but was not included on, the participants list. The UK was represented by Paul Johnston, UK Ambassador to the EU Political and Security Committee Brussels, who has an interesting CV which includes:

  • Paul joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1993 as Desk Officer for Bosnia. As part of this role he was also Private Secretary to EU negotiator Lord Owen and his representative on Bosnia Contact Group.
  • Head of European Defence Section between 2000-01
  • Head of Security Policy Department between 2002-04
  • British Ambassador to Sweden from August 2011 to August 2015
  • Deputy Permanent Representative to NATO

The UKREP ambassadors and counsellors to the EU are led by Sir Tim Barrow, the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the European Union. This super-embassy also includes a Military Section headed by Brigadier Matt Pierson. He is the former CO of 43 Commando, Fleet Protection Group, Royal Marines, who are based at Faslane and protect the UK nuclear deterrent.

Brigadier Matt Pierson (left) handing over to his successor at 43 Cdo, with HMNB Faslane in the background
Brigadier Matt Pierson (left) handing over to his successor at 43 Cdo, with HMNB Faslane in the background

What then do we know?

Firstly, the Veterans for Britain article is correct and there was significant expansion of EU defence architecture taking place at that meeting.

Secondly, with both Earl Howe and Sir Alan Duncan attending, the silence in Westminster on this topic is not due to lack of information, but to the restriction and suppression of that information.

Thirdly, the extensive discussions of all aspects of European Defence Union, without mentioning the term "European Defence Union" in any of the documentation, appears to be a deliberate concealment of the facts behind a screen of acronyms and dense bureaucratic language; we know there is a lack of openness.

And what don't we know?

What exactly were the commitments made by Sir Alan Duncan on behalf of the British people, and when was he planning on telling them?